On Thursday night, I went to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and I chose to see it in High-Frame-Rate 3D so I could judge for myself the merits and flaws of 48 frames per second cinematography.  I encourage you to read my previous essay on the 48fps controversy.  Now that I've seen it firsthand, I am convinced that no matter what the benefits of the new technology might be, filmmakers have a long way to go before they get it right. In fact, I dare say that moviemakers will need to re-learn the language of cinema to keep audiences from paying too much attention to the high-frame-rate technique, which right now is distracting viewers from the plot and characters.

All the nice things that supporters of higher frame rates have said about the process are true, but everything negative that I have heard about 48fps was also true a thousand-fold. There are moments of hyper-clarity that showcased mountain vistas and sweeping landscapes better than anything I have so far seen captured on the silver screen.  Yet, those moments were few and far between compared to the many scenes that frustrated me by taking me out of the story.  If the point of HFR is to make motion more fluid, it failed miserably, because there were countless times that the higher frame rate made a simple pan of the camera too clunky and obvious or the battlefield action too jerky and unnatural. The opening scenes were the worst, feeling artificial rather fulfilling the intent of making them seem more real. 

There were many wonderful scenes in The Hobbit, but there were also too many segments that appeared unforgivably amateurish, as if we were watching videogame graphics or a televised version of a stage play instead of a multimillion dollar motion picture.

Any success that this movie earns should be a testament to its great story and the marvelous job by director Peter Jackson and his superb cast, not a validation of the still experimental 48fps.  It's a shame that the HFR filming technique distracts from the fine performances that were delivered by everyone, especially Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins, Ian McKellen as the wizard Gandalf, Richard Armitage as the heroic dwarf Thorin Oakenshield, Sylvester McCoy as Radagast the Brown, Manu Bennett as the Orc Azog, and of course Andy Serkis as Gollum.  The writers dispelled my concerns of expanding J.R.R. Tolkien's original book into a trilogy -- the additional scenes worked exceptionally well, and it was wonderful to see all those familiar faces again: Elijah Wood as Frodo, Hugo Weaving as Elrond, Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, Ian Holm as the older Bilbo, and especially Christopher Lee as Saruman.

The HFR trend will no doubt continue, as James Cameron has already vowed to create his upcoming Avatar sequels at an even higher frame rate! Hopefully they will not deny the problems of the format that are clearly apparent in The Hobbit and make the necessary adjustments in lighting, camera movement, special effects, makeup, projection, and whatever else might be needed to offer the best visual experience for the stories they aim to tell.

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Comment by Poor Woman on December 21, 2012 at 2:50pm

Thank you for confirming my every suspicion in this case.

Whatever happened to simply telling a good story well?

Comment by Steve S on December 21, 2012 at 5:50pm

I saw the 3D IMAX version. I suspect it worked out a little better than the regular theater 3-D version. Interesting, the promos and previews for other 3-D movies didn't seem to work as well as The Hobbit.

 I found the detail to be a little distracting. Ian McKellan's contact lenses really bugged me. The backdrops of Rivendell were absolutely breathtaking. The Dwarf Hall in the Lonely Mountain (Erebor?) was beautiful. The battle scenes were just a goofy fantasy trip, but LOTR movies were the same way to my viewing. I really do not want to see realistic battle. I prefer Epic Heroics.

Aside - this film appears to be opening to a similar reaction as the Fellowship of The Rings Movie. Critics hold their noses and say "icky-poo-poo", audiences can't get enough of it. Thus my prediction - by the end of these movies, the chattering classes will do a complete reversal and decide this is the best thing since sliced bread. I would describe the movie as a good show for people who like that kind of thing. 4 outta 5 stars. Not for everybody.

Movies never have never been simple story-telling. I am glad that I first experienced The Hobbit as read to me by a teacher (i.e., simple story telling well done). The Book beats the pants off this movie in my opinion. Too many substitutions of less subtle action to make for good visuals.

Comment by Poor Woman on December 21, 2012 at 6:05pm

The three LOTR books beat the pants off of the 3 films as well. I think I'll have to skip this one....

Comment by Emily Conyngham on December 21, 2012 at 6:56pm

I adored The Hobbit as a kid.  Not the other books. I lacked the patience to wade through the genealogy , linguistics, and geography.I loved watching LOTR films with kids. Repeatedly. I will probably give it a whirl...just because it all is so much a part of my life. hmmm.. maybe I will try the IMAX version?

Comment by Hyblaean~ Julie on December 22, 2012 at 1:53am

going to see it tomorrow, it will be what it is

Comment by Harp on December 22, 2012 at 11:33am

Only a few of the big 3D IMAX versions have been worth the additional cost.  I typically chose the vanilla version when possible.   

Comment by Anna Herrington on December 22, 2012 at 11:43am

Glad to read this before I go see this movie -- I want to be immersed in the film, not judging its quality.

Comment by Steve S on December 22, 2012 at 3:08pm

BTW - My wife absolutely loved this movie in IMAX. If you come looking for fun and a pretty good retelling of the story, you will be pleased. I couldn't believe it was already over when it ended. Already dying to see movie number 2.

If you want perfect (and forthe most part, perfectly dull) movies, follow the critics' advice.

Comment by Hyblaean~ Julie on December 22, 2012 at 9:13pm


and ready for bed. The movie was at least 60 hrs longer than my attention span, bladder capacity,  and eardrum integrity. Other than that it was fabulous. 

Comment by Nick Leshi on December 23, 2012 at 8:40pm

I was so worried that they would ruin the original.  The Hobbit was one of my earliest favorite books as a kid, but I must say, despite the 48fps nonsense, they did a fine job of bringing the story to magnificent life.


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